States like New Jersey and New York are urging more people to take up bear hunting this year in the face of a population boom across sections of the East Coast. Earlier this year the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) loosened bear hunting regulations and quotas for upstate hunters, and now New Jersey is following suit with a campaign to put bear on the dinner table.
“It’s tasty,” Kelcey Burgess, the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife’s bear project leader, told The New York Times. “[Bear] tastes like beef. I like cooking the ribs slowly.”
Some hunters say that bear meat has an unjust reputation for being bad-tasting. Common recipes for bear often include stewing, but the meat itself is flexible and can be roasted, grilled for steaks, or cut up for kebabs with bacon. Now hunters who bring in a bear to a New Jersey weigh station will also be presented with a cookbook full of recipes. The book is part of the state’s push to drive more interest in bear hunting, which has waned over the past three years.
New Jersey reintroduced its bear hunting season in 2010 after a five-year absence to help manage the growing population. At first, the season was hotly protested by animal rights groups, but supported by hunters. According to data from the state’s Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), 596 bears were harvested that year, yet hunter participation dropped sharply in the years after. By 2013, hunters bagged only 251 bears, less than half of 2010’s count.
For wildlife managers trying to manage a growing bear population, this is a problem.
“Since the 1980s the Garden State’s black bear population has been increasing and expanding its range both southward and eastward from the forested areas of northwestern New Jersey,” the the DFW states on its website. “Within the most densely populated state in the nation, black bears are thriving and there are now confirmed bear sightings in all 21 of New Jersey’s counties.”
In fact, the Associated Press reported that officials have euthanized 75 nuisance bears already this year. Tragically, the state also saw its first fatal bear attack when a 22-year-old hiker was ambushed and mauled by a bruin last month. That incident spurred further debate between animal rights advocates and wildlife managers on how bear hunts are conducted on the East Coast. This November, the citizens of Maine will vote on Question 2, a citizen-initiated proposal that seeks to eliminate traditional bear hunting methods such as trapping, the use of hounds, and baiting.